Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 120

Russia has enlisted its supporters among CIS countries to oppose the OSCE’s election-monitoring missions and contradict OSCE election assessments. This Russian policy is not in itself new, but was reactive and mostly pro-forma until now. It turned proactive and brazenly aggressive in the parliamentary elections and referendum just held in Belarus, and in the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election. This shift appears related to a campaign recently initiated by Moscow and several CIS countries to “reform” the OSCE, including its election-monitoring activity, which is one of the organization’s basic raisons d’etre.

In Belarus, the OSCE’s Observation Mission assessed the parliamentary elections and referendum, orchestrated by President Alexander Lukashenka, as unfree and unfair. Moscow rejected that assessment. It tasked CIS Executive Secretary Vladimir Rushailo (a former Secretary of Russia’s Security Council and former police general) to lead a Russian/CIS election-monitoring delegation that described the election and referendum as democratic, free, and fair. Moreover, the delegation’s communiques and Rushailo’s statements accused the OSCE’s Observation Mission of interfering in Belarus’ internal affairs and pressuring the government and citizens of Belarus.

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited Rushailo’s and the CIS assessment approvingly, concluding that the elections and referendum had “substantially advanced the development of democratic institutions in Belarus. Russia’s Duma issued a similar statement, describing the elections and referendum in Belarus as “open, free, democratic, and legitimate,” and adding a denunciation of “certain” Russian journalists who had criticized the conduct of the balloting. Emboldened, the Belarus government dismissed the OSCE’s assessment in disdainful tones (Belarus Television, Interfax, October 18-23).

In Ukraine, the CIS monitoring mission, again led by Rushailo, staunchly defended the authorities’ conduct of the first round of the presidential election against the OSCE’s and Council of Europe’s critical assessments. The Russian/CIS observers evaluated the electoral campaign as “held according to democratic norms” by the authorities, and media access as equal for all candidates. While noting some irregularities in the balloting, the Russian/CIS observers blamed primarily “western Ukrainians” and other supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko (Interfax, Ukrainian Television Channel One, ICTV, October 31-November 3).

The CIS created an Election-Monitoring Organization (EMO) in December 2003 at Russian initiative and registered it in Nizhny-Novgorod, according to information EMO released during the electoral campaign in Ukraine (Ukrayina moloda, October 27; TV 5 Kanal, October 31). The initiative forms part of Moscow’s now clearly delineated policy of weakening the OSCE’s democracy and human-rights dimension while “strengthening” the organization’s security dimension, at least on paper. This policy seeks to capitalize on the OSCE’s specific modus operandi: the organization’s activities are only minimally dependent on Russian consent in the democracy sphere, but almost fully dependent on Russian consent in the military-security sphere.

Meanwhile, Russia threatens to block the adoption of the OSCE’s 2005 budget unless the organization downscales its democracy-promoting activities in post-Soviet countries. Moscow wants the OSCE’s upcoming year-end meeting to begin “reforming” the organization along parallel political and budgetary lines, shifting the organization’s resources and priorities away from post-Soviet democratization issues, toward all-European politico-military and security issues.

These proposals reflect Moscow’s goal to use the OSCE to erode NATO’s European security role, Russia’s internal anti-democratic course, and the Kremlin’s intrusion into electoral processes in countries it seeks to dominate; most recently, in Belarus and Ukraine. Within the OSCE, Moscow has induced those seven CIS countries to join the “reform” campaign by exploiting their authoritarian leaders’ resentment of the OSCE’s democracy-promoting activities, such as election monitoring.

The Russian-led group’s proposals include: changing the OSCE’s election-evaluation standards by taking into account the Russian/CIS group’s set of standards; enlarging the representation of CIS countries in OSCE field missions and election-monitoring activities; shifting the focus of OSCE field missions from political issues to socio-economic projects selected by host countries; restricting OSCE missions’ pro-democracy activities, and making use of their off-budget funding [above-board support for local pro-democracy projects] subject to the consent of the host country.

An accompanying set of proposals envisages “strengthening the OSCE” and “increasing its effectiveness in the politico-military and security field,” conferring political and policy functions on certain OSCE bodies, and “restoring the OSCE’s primordial basic function of taking decisions on the main security issues in Europe.” These proposals aim to undermine NATO’s functions and Western security initiatives east of the NATO area. Moscow knows that the United States and most European NATO countries oppose such proposals; but it calculates that a few European governments may accept certain elements of these proposals. Moscow also hopes to induce bureaucratic vested interests in the OSCE to accept a tradeoff: a lesser emphasis on the democratic dimension in return for some make-work projects in the security sphere.

Russia submitted both sets of proposals in July and September to the OSCE’s Permanent Council on behalf of the CIS group of eight countries. Moldova, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, along with Western countries, oppose both sets of those proposals. Russia insists on some steps toward acceptance of its proposals at the organization’s year-end meeting. It holds a budgetary sword of Damocles over the OSCE, linking Russian approval of its budget to the organization’s receptiveness toward Moscow-proposed “reforms.”